Johnny Miller’s Guide to the British Open

You saw plenty of Royal Lytham and St. Annes (pictured), during the 2012 British Open. But England has plenty of other layouts -- both links and parkland -- that are worth a visit.
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The Open Championship has a special place in Johnny Miller’s heart, and not just because he won it in 1976. NBC’s lead golf analyst on what it takes to win “the most important event in golf.”

This might surprise you, but I think the British Open is the most important event in all of golf. To win the Open is huge on the international stage. Sure, everybody loves and wants to win the Masters; it’s got the green jacket and is mushy and feels good. But when you win the British, the whole world takes notice. It means you have the right stuff. It means you’re tough and can handle adversity. If you contend several times in a British Open — win or lose — it means you’re one heck of a player.

Complete Coverage: The 2012 British Open

Some courses play so hard and so funky that you get funky winners—guys who will never win anywhere else. Not here. Royal Lytham is tough but fair, and you always have good champions: Seve, Player, Jacklin. One of the ways you judge a course is by the kind of winners it produces, like Augusta, Torrey Pines and Doral. What sets them apart is that the top players usually win there.

Royal Lytham’s got a heck of a tough finish, with six straight par 4s. They’re long, tough holes, with no real birdie chances coming in. And if ?the wind’s coming in hard, they’re not just tough holes — they’re hang-on-to-your-shorts holes.

I’ll pick Rory McIlroy. He’s due for a good tournament. Rory’s not like some other Irish major winners — McDowell, Clarke — who say, “Hey, let’s relax and enjoy it.” Great players are never satisfied. Me, I was totally satisfied after winning the U.S. Open and British Open. I relaxed and thought, “Wow, that’s great.” But some guys are insatiable. I think Rory might be like that. He’d give his left index finger to win a British Open.

I once interviewed Tom Watson on TV and asked him, “Tom, how do you win five British Opens? Those courses are lumpy and there’s a lot of bad breaks and bad bounces…” He stopped me ? and said, “I love bad bounces.” A light went off in my head. What he was really saying is, “I’m tougher than these other guys who moan and complain when a perfect drive kicks off a knob and into a bunker.” Most guys can’t handle the strange things you get at the British — weather, wind, blind holes, the world’s toughest bunkers. It takes real toughness to win an Open. You have to be a tough grinder.

From the start I liked the British. I made a double-eagle in my second appearance, at Muirfield in ’72. Then I had a chance to win a year later, but Tom Weiskopf one-putted 21 of the last 36 greens to beat me. But I really got the taste for it at Carnoustie, in 1975, going head-to-head with Watson and just missing the playoff. I had those close calls and decided, I really want to win an Open. I won it the next year.

He has the game, but I don’t know if Lee Westwood has the insides to win a major. He’s this era’s Tom Kite, who had all those close calls before finally winning ? the 1992 U.S. Open. Lee’s probably trying too hard. I’d like to see him win. He deserves a major…. Martin Kaymer doesn’t put a lot of spin on the ball, and guys who spin the ball a lot, like Phil, have trouble at the British. Guys with less spin do better….Luke Donald has the iron game to win, but maybe not the driving….With all his crazy shots, Bubba Watson should be able to handle the winds, but I don’t know if he has the toughness to handle the adversity of a British.